Common Brand Questions About Polymer Clay

When the question of polymer clay brands comes up, there are always some questions that apply to all brands or aren’t specific to any one brand. I’ll address those here.

Why is Brand X so hard?

All polymer clay becomes firmer as it sits. The longer it sits, the more firm it becomes. Some brands “settle” to the consistency of cookie dough (Sculpey III), and others settle to the consistency of a brick (Fimo Professional). This is why we condition our clay. Conditioning “disturbs” or “unsettles” the clay so that it will once again be smooth, supple, and easy to work. The age of the clay matters, as well as the brand AND the color. New Fimo Professional can be quite soft, while an old block of Premo Translucent can be hard as a rock.

Why is my clay so crumbly?

Unconditioned polymer clay has very low shear strength, which means that it tends to fracture or shatter when pressure is applied to it suddenly. A slice of old Fimo put through the pasta machine will crumble into bits. But that same slice warmed in the hands and pressed firmly and slowly, will respond beautifully. One major reason we condition our clay is to make it so we can handle it without shattering and cracking. If your clay is crumbly, skip the pasta machine and use firm, slow pressure in your hands. Or let it crumble, put it into a bag, and press it back together. That gets it over with and is often faster.

Do you have to leach brand X?

Leaching is the process of using plain paper to absorb or blot out excess oils and plasticizer from polymer clay (here’s how). You do this when the clay is too soft to be used without distortion. The brand is irrelevant. There have been times when I have to leach a bar when it’s new, but then a few years later, I have to add softener to that same bar once it gets older and “ages.” Leaching is the flip side of adding softener. It totally depends on the consistency.

But could it be partially cured in transit?

Anything’s possible, and yes, it can happen. But it’s rare. Also, partially cured clay blocks aren’t crumbly as much as they’re weirdly hard. If the crumbles can be pinched and pressed together, and you can make a little ball that holds together, it’s just unconditioned or old…not partially cured. In 20 years of working with clay, I’ve only heard of a few honest-to-goodness verified cases of this happening. It is honestly very rare.

Why does brand X keep selling product Y?

Because people keep buying it. Businesses don’t do things that aren’t financially fruitful for them. You’d have to be part of their marketing team to understand their marketing and product line choices. Is that the same choice I would make? Maybe not. But I’m not them. 🙂

What’s the best brand for technique X or Y?

Here’s the deal. There are sculpting lines of clay that are usually white, gray, or flesh-colored. They’re optimized for sculpting. And then there are colored lines of clay. Nearly all of them work just fine for most things. The noted exceptions are the lines of clay that are intended for use by children or non-demanding amateurs. Sculpey III, Bake Shop, Fimo Kids, and some discount store lines of clay are noted exceptions. In general, if the clay’s marketing features cartoon sculptures or children, it will not be a good all-purpose clay. All the rest of the brands will work just fine for nearly everything.

What’s a better clay, Brand X or Brand Y?

Better at what? Every project is different, and every person’s preference is different. For everyone who prefers Souffle, another person will prefer Fimo Professional. There are no bad brands of clay. Your own preference matters the most. Try all the clay brands with an open mind, and choose the one that works best. NOTE: picking a team is silly. Try them all. You have to use them to know them!

Why does brand X have so many bubbles?

Bubbles happen when you (yes, you) trap air in the clay during conditioning. There are many reasons for that, including poor technique. But often, you can’t avoid trapping bubbles because the clay is so gosh-darned sticky. If the clay sticks to the rollers more than it sticks to itself, tiny bits will lift up as it goes through, trapping air. This isn’t a brand issue…it can happen with most brands. For some really sticky brands, you may find that using a pasta machine is causing the trouble. Try using a hand roller (rod), instead.

Can you mix brand X with brand Y?

Yes. You can mix any brands and colors of polymer clay. You’ll usually get a blend of characteristics. There is no reason you can’t mix brands and lines of clay together. You might not like what you get, but isn’t that the whole point of trying it? Mixed clay brands can nearly always be baked properly at 275°F/135°C, assuming your oven is performing optimally and you cover your clay. Do a test to make sure that both color and durability are fine.

What is the clearest brand of translucent?

Pardo is the clearest. Premo and Cernit are next. Then Fimo, followed by CosClay and Kato. Premo and Kato have substantial color casts (yellow/tan) and will readily darken when baked hot. Pardo and Cernit are relatively heat tolerant, but both will turn tan or even burn black given enough heat. If you can’t bake translucent without it turning amber, then you need to address your baking process. I have a course about this here.

Does dunking in ice water make things more translucent?

This process, called “quenching,” does not clear clay permanently. When Cernit first comes out of the oven, it is opaque, so rapid cooling will appear clear much faster than letting it cool naturally. But ultimately, there is no difference. Wet translucent clay also looks much more clear, just as wetting a beach pebble makes it look much more beautiful.

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